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Norway Headed to the Big Homeport in the Sky?

It's been a long, hard road for the legendary liner Norway, launched in 1962 and formerly known as the SS France. In May 2003, after a boiler room explosion cost the lives of seven crewmembers, owner Norwegian Cruise Line took the vessel out of service and sent her to Germany to study the advisability of repairs. The ship's age and the increasing expense of maintaining her eventually sealed her fate and she was officially retired from NCL's active fleet in March 2004. Now comes word that the ship, currently sailing under the name Blue Lady, has been towed to the ship breakers at Alang, in India's Gujarat province.

One of the most beautiful and stylish vessels ever to cross the Atlantic, the SS France was laid up in 1974 after only twelve years of liner service, a victim of the jet age. Five years later, Norwegian Cruise Line bought her for just $18 million ($62 million less than she'd cost to build) and sunk a further $130 million into converting her for cruising, initially to tremendous acclaim and success. By the time of her accident, though, Norway had been rendered antique by the newest generations of megaships. Though she still boasted some stunning public areas, her age showed.

At this writing, the ship was still at anchor off the Alang coast, awaiting a decision by the Indian Supreme Court addressing the issue of alleged significant asbestos contamination in her structure. Environmentalists have focused increasingly on India and Bangladesh's ship-breaking industry in recent years, citing the 1989 Basel Convention, an international agreement that bans the export of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries.

Alaska to Levy Cruise Ship Head Tax . . . Maybe

In this week's Alaska statewide elections, a proposal for a $50 per head tax on cruise ship passengers appears headed for victory, with the Juneau Empire reporting Wednesday that, with returns in from 67 percent of the state, 53 percent of voters were in support. In addition to the tax, the ballot measure would also impose new environmental regulations on the cruise industry, aimed at better monitoring and controlling waste materials discharged by ships into the stateÂ?s waters.

As expected, the cruise industry has opposed the initiative, noting that it would lead to increases in cruise pricing and a possible drop in bookings and overall Alaska tourist revenues.

The measure would apply to all cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers.

Holland America to Test Emissions-Reducing Technology

With partial funding provided by the Environmental Protection Agency and Washington's Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425; www.hollandamerica.com) plans to conduct a feasibility project aboard ms Zaandam in spring 2007, testing a new "Seawater Scrubber" technology designed to reduce emissions.

The technology, which runs engine emissions though a "bath" of seawater, is expected to partially reduce nitrogen oxides, almost entirely eliminate sulfur dioxide, and significantly reduce particulate matter in the ship's emissions. Through the process, the absorbed sulfur dioxide is oxidized into sulphate ion (already a natural element of seawater), which is then run through further treatment systems before being discharged back into the sea.

The total cost of the installation is more than $1.2 million, of which $300,000 derives from an EPA/West Coast Collaborative grant and $100,000 comes in the form of a contribution from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. According to HAL president and CEO Stein Kruse, a scrubber has never previously been installed on a vessel engine of this size.

"We are proud to partner with Holland America Line on the first large-scale pilot of seawater scrubber technology," said Dennis McLerran, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. "This technology has the potential to significantly -- and economically -- reduce emissions from seagoing vessels, benefiting our coasts and port communities."

Results of the Zaandam test will be analyzed to determine whether the technology could be rolled out to new cruise ships and retrofited to existing vessels. A final report is due to be submitted by June 2008.

Windstar Announces Fleet Upgrade

In late 2005, Windstar Cruises (tel. 800/258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com) followed parent company Holland America's lead in introducing a branded program of upgrades and improvements to the line's three motor-sail ships, the 308-passenger Wind Surf and 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit. Dubbed "Degrees of Difference" (as opposed to HAL's "Signature of Excellence"), the initiative was implemented in stages over the following year, improving dining and cabin amenities. Now comes word that the line has expanded on its original intent, adding plans for structural and mechanical changes, along with improvements to guest areas.

Work will begin this November and December during Wind Surf's scheduled five-week combined wet dock and dry dock. Major changes will include:

  • Creation of a new gathering spot on Main Deck, called the Yacht Club. Created by removing walls from the library (which currently sits between two public corridors), the space will feature an espresso bar with tables and chairs, couches for lounging, a large flat-panel TV for watching movies and sporting events, and eight computers for email and Internet browsing. As in the current library, a selection of books, DVDs, and CDs will still be available.
  • Creation of two new 475-square-foot suites on Bridge deck, each featuring a living room, an entertainment center with flat-panel television and DVD/CD player, a dining area, a separate bedroom (also with TV/DVD/CD), and a full bath with whirlpool tub and separate shower. Guests in the Bridge Suites will enjoy extra service amenities such as unpacking and packing service, invitation to dine with Captain, laundry and pressing services, evening appetizers, high tea service upon request, complimentary bottled water, chilled champagne upon arrival, additional L'Occitane bath amenities, and more.
  • Renovation of all stateroom and suite bathrooms, to include updated cabinetry with open glass shelves, granite countertops, white porcelain sinks, new custom shower heads, new shower curtains, and an illuminated magnifying mirror.
  • A reconfiguration of the WindSpa to create a couples massage room and add a pedicure chair.
  • Rejiggering of The Bistro, Wind Surf's alternative restaurant, including a name change to "Degrees," a redecoration, and a shift in menu, with a steak house menu created by Joachim Splichal four nights a week and menus from Northern Italy, France, and Indonesia on other evenings.
  • Addition of Balinese-style sun beds on Star deck and improvements to the ship's aft water sports platform, which allows snorkeling, sailing, water skiing, kayaking, and wind surfing while the ship is at anchor.

To facilitate Wind Surf's renovations, Windstar has canceled her November 19 transatlantic sailing and her December 2 Caribbean cruise. The ship will begin her Caribbean season on December 16, 2006, sailing round-trip from Bridgetown, Barbados.

Wind Spirit will undergo renovations in spring 2007 and Wind Star in fall 2007, though details are as yet unavailable.

NCL Upgrades Passenger Loyalty Program

Repeat passengers are a vital component of every cruise line's revenue mix, and while every line might like to think its onboard experience and itineraries are enough to keep 'em coming back, it doesn't hurt to take out a little insurance either. Thus, the passenger loyalty program, which goes by various names at various lines. At Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/343-0098; www.ncl.com) it's known as Latitudes, and last week the line moved to institute a series of upgrades, dividing passengers into four tiers and offering more goodies the more you sail.

  • Bronze members (1-4 completed cruises) receive access to a Latitudes Customer Service desk; a complimentary subscription to Latitudes, a quarterly members-only magazine; special deals on all sailings; a special Latitudes check-in desk at the pier; a members-only cocktail party hosted by the captain; and a Latitudes onboard liaison to ensure that all past guests receive their benefits.
  • Silver members (5-8 completed cruises) also get an invitation to a past-guests reception on board and treats delivered to their stateroom twice during the cruise.
  • Gold members (9-13 completed cruises) receive priority boarding and debarkation, an in-stateroom welcome basket upon embarkation, priority restaurant reservations and tender tickets, and an invitation to the captain's VIP cocktail party.
  • Platinum members (14 or more completed cruises) receive all of the above, plus a complimentary dinner in NCL's signature restaurant, Le Bistro.

The program is retroactive to the inception of the original Latitudes program in 1995, so if you've sailed with NCL before, that counts. Membership is automatic once you've sailed with the line.

Carnival to Put Second Ship in New Orleans Year-Round

We're still a couple months out from the return of the mainstream cruise industry to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans (NCL's Norwegian Sun and Carnival's Fantasy are due back in October), but Carnival (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) is apparently banking on the continued marketability of the city formerly known as The Big Easy. Last week it announced that in August 2007 it intends to homeport the 2,758-passenger Carnival Triumph there as well, offering two different 7-night western Caribbean cruises, one visiting Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios, the other visiting Belize, Cozumel, and Progreso. Prices currently start at $449 per person, double occupancy.

"After Hurricane Katrina, Carnival reaffirmed its commitment to the New Orleans tourism industry, and said it would bring back two ships to homeport here year-round as soon as possible," said Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. "Carnival has lived up to its promise and shown that cruising will continue to have a vibrant future in New Orleans."

In tangential news, Carnival has decided to broadcast talks by its longtime interior designer, Joe Farcus, on in-cabin TVs, explaining the stories behind the ships' always-fanciful decor schemes. "I design each ship to tell a story, and it gives me great joy to be able to share these stories with guests," said Farcus.

The videos are already shown on the in-stateroom TVs of the line's eight Spirit- and Conquest-class ships, and will eventually be featured on all 21 ships in the Carnival fleet.

Celebrity Cancels One Alaska Sailing to Fix Propulsion Problem

When Celebrity (tel. 800/437-3111; www.celebritycruises.com) introduced its four Millennium-class ships between 2000 and 2002, little did they know that the much-vaunted Mermaid Pod propulsion system -- in which propellers are mounted on swiveling pods attached to the ship's hull, offering greater maneuverability -- would turn into such a headache. But that they have, with frequent instances of worn bearings requiring the line to cancel a number of sailings. Now the line has been forced to cancel Infinity's September 13 sailing in order to replace one of its two pods, which according to Celebrity "is failing to provide the ship's maximum cruising speed, essentially reducing it from 22 to 19 knots, making it difficult to maintain the ship's future itineraries as scheduled."

Repairs will be made at drydock facilities in Victoria, British Columbia. Meanwhile, Infinity has received clearance from all appropriate authorities and continues to sail safely.

Guests booked on the cruise will receive a full refund and a certificate applicable toward a future cruise.

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